20 | living places to visit The summer visitors have long departed
crash onto the promenade, and you’ll understand why this stretch of coastline receded by around 200m between the early 18th century and the arrival of the railway. Over the years sea defences have been refined, and while the advance has been halted locally, maintaining the beach has proved much more challenging, particularly when the occasional really big storm blows through. The only answer, for now at least, is to replace what has been lost, using sand from The promenade is a delight for cyclists
elsewhere, including the Chassiron Bank between the islands of Ré and Oléron, and from dredging operations to maintain the access channel to Boyardville on the Île d’Oléron (which has the opposite problem). It’s a costly process, but the result is the magnificent and much loved sandy playground which has been awarded the ‘Handiplage’ label for its specially dedicated facilities (including an amphibious wheelchair) for those with a disability – see handiplage. fr. It also plays host to colourful events such as the annual ‘Festival de Cerf-Volant et du Vent’ – an Easter weekend extravaganza featuring giant, imaginatively styled kites, wind-powered automatons, kite surfing, workshops and lots more. This year the 26th edition of this spectacular family event will unfold at Châtelaillon Plage on 20-22 April. You’ll find details of this and other events at: chatelaillon-plage-tourisme.fr
An illustrious history...
Appearances can be deceptive. For all its modern-day image as an attractive family coastal resort, Châtelaillon Plage actually has a much more substantial earlier history, signs of which are visible in a Mérovingien-era cemetery just south of the town at Les Bouchôleurs. Here over 70 stone sarcophagi dating from the 7th century bear witness to the fact that this was formerly a site of great wealth and importance. Sure enough, on a long-lost nearby rocky headland known as the Pointe du Cornard stood the Castrum Allionis, a mighty fortress constructed by the Comtes de Poitou in response to repeated attacks from the sea by Vikings and from inland by Norman raiders. By the 9th century things were more secure, the complex having developed into a substantial fortified town with 12m-high walls, 14 or so towers, a 40m-high donjon and a population of around 20,000. Thus the spot we now know as Châtelaillon Plage rose to become, for several centuries, the capital of the vast territories of Aunis. In 1130, however, the forces of Guillaume X, Duc d’Aquitaine placed the fortress under siege, precipitating a sudden and decisive transfer of power to La Rochelle. Throughout the inevitable long period of decline which followed, a process of coastal erosion was steadily gnawing away at the exposed headland, and in 1709 a particularly violent storm washed away a section of cliff off Vieux Châtelaillon, taking with it the last vestiges of the once mighty stronghold. However, another, much later military installation does survive at the northern end of the beach, in the shape of the Fort Saint-Jean, constructed by order of Napoléon in 1811, to reinforce coastal defences against the threat of attacks by the Royal Navy. Once boasting a 30-strong garrison, it was occupied by German forces during WWII, abandoned by the French military during the 20th century and now stands forlornly, waiting to be rediscovered.